Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Tourdog
Editors Note: In the absence of a clear explanation from Mercedes – F1 fans are all but happy enough to provide possible scenarios for Rosberg’s Singapore dilemma. This article was written prior to Iain:R8’s and adds additional points to consider.
Tourdog was born on the Wrong Side of the Atlantic, as he puts it, and is saddled with the strain of having to watch F1 from the perspective of an ‘Murican. His real experience lies in Audio and Tour Management, though he had an early career in computer system installation.
Never did I believe that my life experience would have any relevance to an F1 conspiracy, but here we are.
I am an end user, of what the lay term for, is a “multi pin connector”. The title is pretty self explanatory, but I shall elaborate for the uninformed. A mutli-pin connector is a quick, efficient, and relatively reliable way, to connect a large number of wires together, and take them apart. These connectors are built in a wide range of sizes, materials, and pin numbers, with each pin representing one wire in the system. I have personally assembled wiring systems not dissimilar to the ones used in racing, that had single multi pin connectors, with in excess of 150 pins, so I can speak with some authority.
ALL road cars use hundreds, if not thousands of these connectors, though most of them are a handful of pins. MOST race cars use them to make building and repair easier, though they are much stronger than the ones in the road cars, in fact a lot of the early connectors used in racing were taken right out of WWII aircraft. F1 cars use very few multi-pins now. Almost all wiring runs direct from origin to destination, through as few connectors as possible, to reduce weight. They try and limit these connections to what is necessary to quickly remove major parts, such as the steering wheel.
The steering column itself holds a “multi-Pin connector” within its hollow center, there is no coilly cable anymore like we used to see when there were only two or three buttons on the steering wheels. Since the wheel must be removed and replaced on a regular basis, the wiring has been buried within the steering column itself. One can see this from the following picture:
Unfortunately there is a line in this picture that is obscuring our view, but there appears to be about 10 pins that connect the steering wheel to the car electrically, right in the centre of the connection to the steering column. If one looks closely, they will see that the pins recessed into those 10 little holes are “male” pins. Further inspection reveals that there is an inner collar on the column connection. As the wheel is pressed onto the column, the inner collar on the steering wheel if forced backwards into the wheel by the column. This will expose the pins, allowing them to mated to the car side of the connection. The spring loaded collar is designed to protect the pins on the back of the steering wheel, so they are not damaged when the wheel is not on the car.
The “female” pins are incased in a synthetic block that resides in the canter of the steering column. There is most likely no cover for these pins, unless the teams have made a small cap that is placed over the shaft manually.
- So lets look at Mercedes statements, the key parts are highlighted:
Forensic analysis has revealed that the steering column electronic circuits were contaminated with a foreign substance.
- This occurred during our normal pre-event servicing procedures at the factory and the substance found is used as part of our standard servicing procedure.
- The relevant design has been in use since 2008 (6 seasons) without experiencing any fault.
- The contamination was not visible and did not manifest itself until Sunday as Nico went to the grid, although the steering column was used throughout the weekend and the car fired up as normal on Sunday morning.
- The result was an intermittent short circuit in these circuits.
- As a consequence Nico could not command the clutch nor change engine settings.
- The car was ultimately retired because it was unsafe to execute a pit stop without command of the clutch.
- Fresh parts will be used at the forthcoming races.
- The team has been working intensively on reliability and quality processes during 2013 and 2014 in order to improve our performance in this area and these efforts will continue at the same intensive level over the coming month
The typical way to clean one of these connectors is with a quickly evaporating aerosol spray. We call it “contact cleaner”, as do you, and it can be found in any hardware or electronics store. In extreme cases however, such as an environment with exceptionally high humidity, the metal pins themselves could become corroded in a very short amount of time, as quickly as a few hours. The liquid cleaner may not have enough cutting power on its own to remove a large amount of corrosion. Keeping the pins covered, by having the wheel attached overnight, would help reduce this corrosion, as it would limit the pins exposure to the air. But in the event the wheel was left off, or even as a precautionary measure due to the humidity in Singapore, a small metal-bristled brush might be used to help clear any corrosion on the pins.
This is what could have caused the failure. If even 1 small bristle of bare wire were to break off of the brush, and lodge itself into the multi-pin connector, it could cause the failure Merc experienced. This would have been extremely difficult to see. It would also explain why the problem appeared intermittent. Depending on the length of the wire, and the layout of the pins, it could have been shorting any one, or multiple pins to each other, and/or to ground. As the wheel spun, the piece of wire could have been moving within the housing, changing the pins it touches. It could have been lodged in there since initial set-up at the factory, as they stated, though it is more likely to have been an overambitious engineer that decide to clean it, “just in case” in the garage. Simply attaching and removing the wheel could have been enough to dislodge this rogue piece of wire.
I have no doubts that this situation is entirely possible. It has happened to me. I wasn’t working on an F1 car, but I have had electrical shorts happen in this manner. Of course, there is another, equally likely situation.
At another point in my life, I was doing what was essentially help centre computer work, for a
completely unique, one-off software system that was responsible for getting emergency vehicles to
accident locations in a large city. Getting someone’s computer back up and running quickly, over the phone, is all about knowing what questions to ask, and the first question is always, what just changed?
This sounds overly simple, but it regularly leads to the following response:
Somehow even the most intelligent people think the word “just”, absolves them of responsibility. It
always means they touched something.
What tipped me off to this was Nico’s statements about the situation, they are classic defensive moves. He was very matter of fact about what he had done. He described the situation very methodically. He was in the garage. The engineers had the car up on jacks. It was running. They had been testing it and everything was fine. “The moment” he got in the car, it all went wrong. That’s the part I find hard to believe, the coincidence of timing. My first question to him would have been, “what did you touch?” I can practically hear the first words he spoke in my head, “I didn’t do anything, I just…..”
The computers and software in the car, are still very much “beta” in computer terms. Since some parts are bespoke and some of the computer modules are “standardised” parts supplied by McLaren, the hardware and the software simply cannot be tested for every possible contingency. There just isn’t enough time, and the software is updated too often. So it is entirely possible that Nico got into the car, and made a change to a setting on the wheel either he shouldn’t have, or that had not been tested correctly before. At that point the software went “haywire”. This is not a problem that only Mercedes faces, and I am sure all teams have had failures due to software at some point or another.
Why didn’t it go bad for Lewis too? Well assuming the software in both cars is identical; it could simply be a matter that Lewis didn’t make the exact same change at the same time, and he was in a different mode at the moment.
It is far better, and easier, for Merc to explain to the world that there was a “foreign substance” in the wiring, than it is to announce that they have software issues.
It was either a genuine, unforeseen electrical short, or a software error, that may have been initiated by Nico. Of course, Mercedes tagging all of their tweets with this..
..is probably not going to help cull the speculation.